Roughly every fourth car I see has expired tabs. Oregon plates, Washington, California—and not just recently expired; some are years behind. It wasn’t always this way. Is this law not being enforced? Am I a sucker for paying out hundreds for new tags? —Keeping Tabs
Technically, Keeping, only a few of the cars you’re seeing have expired tabs. In Oregon, California and the rest of the civilized world, we call them “tags,” as God intended. Only Washington insists on calling them “tabs,” probably at the behest of the same transportation committee that designed their fucked-up freeway exits.
Anyway, you’re not hallucinating (not about this, anyway). It’s been pretty much impossible to get pulled over for expired tags in Portland (unless you’re also talking on your cellphone and smoking a fat blunt) since way back in spring of 2020. The only thing that’s changed is the reason.
First, there was a global pandemic that required the closing of government buildings. Since no one could get to the DMV, the state created a grace period of nonenforcement. By summer 2021, however, the DMV was open again (sort of) and the amnesty was set to expire at the end of the year.
Unfortunately for cops with itchy ticket fingers, summer 2021 was also when police chief Chuck Lovell directed PPB officers to stop pulling people over for minor violations, including expired registrations and improper lights. This time the reason was limited manpower and a desire to prioritize moving violations amid rising traffic fatalities.
Then, in March 2022, Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 1510. The law was mostly touted as curbing police searches, but it also includes a list of minor violations which will no longer be considered sufficient cause to initiate a traffic stop, including broken lights and improperly illuminated license plates.
The state law does not ban stops for expired tags, however; you can still get a ticket for those in, say, Oregon City. (Trust me on this). But in Portland, the chief’s order is presumably still in force—at least, the mayor’s office never responded to tell me otherwise.
That said, don’t get cocky: The parking patrol has begun picking up the slack. They’re currently writing about 1,500 expired-tags tickets a month, up from 500 a year ago. Sure, you can’t get pulled over while you’re driving. But everybody’s gotta park sometime.
Correction: This story incorrectly stated that Senate Bill 1510 forbade police officers for pulling motorists over for expired tags. In fact, it only forbids traffic stops for improperly illuminated license plates. WW regrets the error.
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